The German intelligence service Bundesnachrichtdienst (which we’ll just refer to as the BND, for short) has admitted that their internal surveillance systems had “accidentally” spied on calls made to and from the country by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and current Secretary John Kerry.
According to the agency and a corroborating report by the German publication Der Spiegel (of Snowden leak fame), both heads of international relations for the United States had been using the same channels to communicate with the outside world as known terrorists, which caused their automatic systems to accidentally track, trace, and monitor the content of their calls without any other agent’s personal intervention.
The first call, made by Clinton to former United Nations chief Kofi Annan in 2012, was picked up by the system, tracked by officials within the agency, and then “not immediately deleted”, according to an anonymous spokesperson who represented the BND in the fallout of these most recent revelations.
What the term ‘immediately’ means in this particular situation seems to still be up for debate. However the agency did follow up and say that the information gathered on Kerry was part of common nation state information surveillance operations, and that the United States was pretty much the last candidate on the list who’s allowed to be offended about having their leaders spied on since the advent of the ongoing debacle with Germany’s chancellor Angel.
Der Speigel followed up the story a day later by claiming that at least one other intelligence agency in the country had been tasked with tapping Kerry’s conversations outside of what was picked up by the automatic system, supposedly while he attempted to broker a deal between Israel and Palestine during their most recent flare up of military tensions along the Gaza Strip.
Information gathered during the procedure was supposedly then passed on to Israeli negotiators, who used the info to bolster their position during ceasefire and peace talks, which we all know by now ultimately fell through in the end.
What makes the story especially concerning is that Kerry was using double encrypted phone lines while these talks were still on the table, which suggests that much like the NSA, BND has the capability to crack through even the most advanced protection methods in order to glean sensitive information from cell phones, computers, and analog land lines as they see fit.
BND has also fallen in a bit of hot water recently thanks to their alleged spying on a NATO partner, Turkey, who has been embroiled in a series of controversies over weapons dealings in the Middle East that could violate several international treaties if the suspicions of the German government turn out to be true.
This story just goes to show that the United States isn’t the only country who has lost control of its own surveillance capabilities, and that when it comes to the monitoring of communications, even the smartest machines still make the same kinds of mistakes that our desktops at home already know all to well.